Is the Single Life Really a Gift?

In 1 Corinthians 7:6-9, Paul tells us that it is good for a person to remain single.  In fact, he calls singleness a “gift from God.”  Why does he think singleness is such a great thing?  Paul explains his reasoning later in the same chapter in verses 32-35.  The single person is better able to focus his/her undivided attention on serving the Lord.  Those who are married have spouses and children that necessarily take much time and effort to properly maintain.  Paul was not talking about retreating into a cave to study Scripture and pray in this passage.  The Christian life is never about self.  Paul was speaking about spending our time serving the Lord by serving others.

Do we really believe Paul?  Does the Church think of singleness as a “gift of God?”  Do you?  If so, why do we constantly badger the single people in our midst with questions like “So, who are you dating?” or “When are you going to get married?”  Do you think this may send the wrong message to our singles?  It has a way of telling our friends that something is wrong with them or lacking unless they get married.  Perhaps we should solve the problem of our singles by offering to pay others to marry them like they are doing for Nepali widows.

For those who are single, do you believe Paul?  If so, why are so many of you wallowing in your singleness as if it is a curse?  If you say that you do believe Paul, how are you taking advantage of your free time and resources in your service to God?  That is the reason for the gift – to allow you to more fervently serve God.  Are you doing that?  How are you spending your free time?

I write this post as one who spent many years as an eligible single man.  I was not married until I was 34.  I understand the pressure that comes from others (including the Church) and what it feels like to view singleness as more of a curse than a gift.  However, I also know that singleness really does give a person many more opportunities and options to serve.  I am married now and have a daughter.  Much of my free time is taken.  I remember when this was not the case and I could immerse myself in serving others through ministry.  I am thankful for my wife and daughter, but I am also thankful for the time I had as a single person.

What are your thoughts on singleness as a gift?  Do you think that we as Christians really think of singleness as Paul did?

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10 Responses to Is the Single Life Really a Gift?

  1. Kelsey says:

    Thanks for addressing this, Pastor Tim! I agree that there is a lot of pressure to date from members of the Church. It gets exasperating, and sometimes feels invasive. Sometimes I’ve been tempted to tell people I’ve recently had a boyfriend and just broke up with him (this is a lie) just to get them to stop hassling me. Haven’t actually gone through with it, but it’s good to know I have options 😉 I know married people just want others to experience the same happiness they have, but it’s hard to convince them that singles can be happy and content, as well!
    This has been a bit of a hot topic at Westmont, where, like most Christian colleges, there is a lot of pressure to date and find “the one.” One professor pointed out an interesting switch that has occurred since the Reformation. Prior to that, married people were considered slightly second class to celibate clergy, and priests and nuns, as single members of the Church, were seen as being able to serve God better than their lay peers. Today, singles are treated as slightly second class, and a little less able to serve God. Obviously, both groups can serve God well in many of the same capacities and also many different ones. It would be great if people in the Church started acting like they believe that.

  2. Ben A says:

    I like what Kelsey has to say.

    How many churches see older unmarried men more as perverts than as ministers? And I agree with the, sadly. And I wish I knew why.

    You see a 40-year-old single man serving the homeless and you wonder, “What’s wrong with him?”

    But the truth is, many people have the gift of singleness and few have chosen to take and use it. They squander it on a life of unhappy marriage. Maybe we should help promote singleness in our church.

  3. Tim Farley says:

    Kelsey and Ben:

    I believe the celibacy issue does trace back to the Reformation. Prior to that time, Catholicism taught that a minister or nun must be celibate. It was seen as a good thing becuase it meant greater commitment to Christ. When Martin Luther broke ties with the Catholic church, he also ended his life of celibacy. Protestants have never (to my knowledge) taught that celibacy was required of ministers. In fact, I think as a response to Catholicism, we have always preferred that our ministers be married. It has led to a devaluing of the gift of singleness in our churches.

    I also agree with Ben. We look at older single men as weird and those to be cautious of. However, that does not change the fact that the gift is still given and that perceptions can be overcome. John Stott, the great pastor and author, has been single his whole life. He is someone I hold in high regard.

  4. Larry says:

    In 1 Corinthians 7:6-9, Paul tells us that it is good for a person to remain single. In fact, he calls singleness a “gift from God.”

    With all due respect to Paul, he never writes about his “sex life” when he was known as Saul and went about persecuting the church. I would find his statement that singleness is a ‘gift from God’ more credible if he contrasted his ‘sex life’ before and after his conversion. He would then have been able to explain how he knew he had this ‘gift of singleness.’ The problem is that most (probably 99.9%) of singles are unable to discern whether they have this gift (if in fact there is such a gift) or whether the gift is temporary or permanent. Simply to believe (as some pastors do) that you have the gift of singleness because you are not married by a certain age is not biblical. Unfortunately, Paul does not provide a test to determine whether a single has this gift. Therefore, we should not think of singleness as Paul did.

  5. Tim Farley says:

    Larry:

    Thanks for commenting. Let me reply with a couple of things. First, while Paul does not specifically mention his sex life before his conversion, he does give us an idea of what it was probably like. If we read Galatians 1:13-14 and Philippians 3:4-6 we are told by Paul about his pre-Christian conversion. We are told that he was a devout Jew who followed the Law fervently – more fervently than others. If Paul is being truthful, why would we assume that his sex life did not follow the teaching of the Law as well?

    Secondly, even if Paul had sex prior to becoming a Christian, how does that change the truth of what he says in 1 Corinthians about marriage? If a person commits a sin, does that mean they can no longer say that thing is wrong?

    Thirdly, Paul never said marriage was wrong for anyone. In fact, he says that those who marry do not sin. He only says that some would do better not to marry because it would allow them to serve the Lord in greater ways.

    You are right that Paul never gave us a test to see if we have the gift of singleness. We have no tests for any of the “gifts” in the Bible. They are all somewhat subjective in nature, but this does not rule out that they are still given. Paul does say that those who can bear it are the ones who should not marry. If a person can not bear it, that person probably does not have the gift.

    We would be wrong to place an age on marriage and determine from age who has the gift of singleness and who does not. This is more a cultural construct than a biblical one.

    The point of my post though has more to do with putting undo pressure on those who are single. If that is the life they have chosen to lead because they feel they are better able to serve God through it, we should not make a person feel inadequate because of their lack of a spouse. We should see their commitment and honor it.

  6. Kelsey says:

    Pastor Tim, have you come across this article from Christianity Today about early marriage?
    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/august/16.22.html

    It’s making the rounds at Westmont via Facebook, and it’s actually causing quite a stir. What do you think of this?

    (If you read it, I don’t think you’ll have to guess how I feel about it. But just in case, I found it extremely frustrating and even counterproductive in some places).

  7. Tim Farley says:

    Kelsey:

    I did read the article. I feel like the woman author blames much of the problem on men – specifically, Christian men being predators. She fails to deal with the issue of extended adolescence that our wealthy culture encourages. I talked about this some a couple of years ago. I think you were there.

    Our culture encourages adolescents to grow up more slowly because we have no place for them in the workplace. We would rather that they spend a few more years being “kids” before they enter adulthood. In many ways this is a good thing. It gives us time to become more educated (college) and also significantly more leisure time in our younger years. Of course, the temptation to have sex is going to be strong – especially since we reach puberty at a young age (even younger than previous generations). Moving marriage to a later age just increases the average number of years that a person has to resist the temptation.

    How do we deal with the problem? I am not sure, but I do not think simply promoting young marriage is the answer. I think that would only cause more problems than it would fix. We already have problems with divorce and single-parent homes. Marrying young with all of the financial and emotional pressure would only add to these problems.

  8. katierae says:

    hey all, I realise this discussion is a little old but I have just stumbled onto this post.

    There’s a couple of things that I want to say

    1. I DO believe that singleness is a gift

    2. I DON”T believe our churches as a whole think singleness is a gift – or at least they don’t teach or model that view

    3. In the comments there was some discussion about how you know if you have the gift or not. Here’s what I have come to believe over the last year or so of thinking/reading about this. There is a lot about the ‘gift of singleness’ we misunderstand but the very basic thing is missing what Paul says in 1 Cor 7:7 – each has his own gift from God, one this [singleness] and another that [marriage].
    I would take that to mean that if you are married you have the gift of marriage and if you are single you have the gift of singleness. THAT’S the test. Are you single? If the answer is yes you have the gift of singleness! It’s true that we can’t know for how long we will have that gift (it may or may not be temporary) but we must start to see why it’s a gift and to use it accordingly.

    Thats my 2 cents worth!

    (I’ve blogged about this too http://katierae.wordpress.com/tag/singleness/)

  9. Tim Farley says:

    katierae:

    Thanks for commenting (even if it is a little late). 🙂 I agree with you that singleness is a gift. I also agree that it may be temporary for some, while being life-long for others. However, I have a question about your “test”. You said if a person is single, they have the gift. If they are married, they do not. That seems simple enough. Although, Ben raises an interesting point in his comment above. What about those who may marry because of cultural pressure who should have remained single? I believe it is possible to neglect our gifts (or even be outright disobedient with them). Is it possible that some who are married should have remained single because they were given the gift of singleness, but instead they caved to the expectations of others? The opposite could also be true: some who have remained single because they have a great desire to serve God (but in a legalisitc way – think Catholic priests and nuns here) who probably would have been better off marrying.

    What are your thoughts?

  10. katierae says:

    I think we see the reasons why Paul describes singleness as a gift in vs 32 – 35… so we can be completely devoted to the Lord and holy in both body and spirit. I think we want to be careful about making this something that is required of some singles and not other. Seems to me that singleness is not less of a gift to some people than it is to others regardless of the reasons why are person is single.

    Likely wise I wouldn’t want to say that marriage is less of a gift for some people than others, especially considering that Paul says whatever your circumstance stay as you are.

    I think that Paul’s point is that both singleness and marriage are gifts, so take what you have and use it for the kingdom!

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